Refugee bill is about information, not discrimination, supporters say

Mar 02 2017
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Tom Brewer For Nebraska, Legislature

Hundreds gathered outside the State Capitol Sunday night to protest President Trump’s immigration ban and to show support for refugees and immigrants.
TESS WILLIAMS/JOURNAL STAR

Nebraskans should have more detailed information about refugees who are resettled here and the potential costs to the state, backers of a legislative bill said Thursday.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, would require resettlement agencies to report the number, age, gender, family status and nation of origin for all refugees they resettle here, as well as the reason they became refugees and details on any state or federal benefits they receive.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services would then be required to post the information online and compile it into a report for the Legislature, the governor and each member of the state’s congressional delegation.

“If I’m going to have Thanksgiving dinner, I’d like to have a headcount,” said Jennifer Schukar of Lincoln, one of a dozen people who supported the bill during a hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “I think that’s only fair for the taxpayers.”

The state’s resettlement agencies argued much of what the bill would require them to share is already publicly available, and releasing additional details could put them at odds with federal privacy laws.

Other opponents said Brewer’s proposal is discriminatory.

Courtney Lawton of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence called it “xenophobic, racist, nativist and protectionist” and said the state should focus on reporting requirements for people licensed to carry concealed weapons instead.

Brewer, a retired Army colonel who served in Afghanistan, said such accusations make him “short-tempered.”

“I don’t have a problem with them coming here,” he said of refugees. “But Nebraska taxpayers and policy makers are entitled to know the budgetary and security implications of refugees who resettle here”, he said.

Although no fatal terrorist attacks have been carried out by refugees in the United States, supporters of Brewer’s bill said the lack of documentation available from certain countries raises questions about potential bad actors or refugees who might be carrying communicable illnesses, such as tuberculosis.

Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska and the Refugee Empowerment Center both opposed the bill. Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska was neutral but raised many similar concerns as the other two resettlement groups.

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference who spoke on behalf of Catholic Social Services, suggested lawmakers would benefit from a “broader snapshot” of refugees’ economic impact, instead of just what benefits they receive.

That includes the businesses they form and jobs they create in the United States.

“There would be other things, to highlight positive economic impact,” Venzor said.

Committee members took no action on the bill (LB505) on Tuesday.

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